The creators over at Bubble Comics premiered the short action film, Майор Гром (Major Grom) late on Friday evening of San Diego Comic Con to a room of excited fans, ready to experience the first ever Russian comic book adaptation on the big screen. I reached out to the sweetest PR guy I ever did meet a few days before the convention, Alexei, and got myself an interview with the creators of Major Grom as soon as I saw the trailer for the film.
The day before the premiere, I had the opportunity to sit down with Artem Gabrelyanov, the owner of Bubble Comics & Studios as well as the creator of Major Grom, a high action short Russian film full of fight scenes, jokes and great music. In their well-sized booth, right near the entrance of Exhibit Hall C, we talked comic book aesthetics, conjugated Russian verbs, and I managed to mention hockey at least once.
Diva: So, is this your first Comic Con?
Artem: No, the third, actually.
D: Third Comic Con?
A: Third. This time we got twice as big a booth as last time. I personally think Comic Con loves us because they gave us the opportunity to make such great stands and to show what we are capable of in terms of making comics, shooting movies and stuff.
D: So, Мyоr Grom… (Major Grom)
A: Oh, I love your Russian!
D: Spasiba. Ya izuchayow? Izuchaet? (Thank you. I _______?)
A: Izuchayu. (Study)
D: Izuchayu Po-Ruskii yazik, no, ne horosho… (I study the Russian language but I’m no good)
A: It’s really great!
D: Spasiba! When I got the invitation from Alexei, I actually went to the Bubble Comics YouTube page, watched the film and I loved it, it was so fun.
A: Wow, thank you, thank you.
D: So, you said you are the CEO–the writer, the everything. Tell me about Bubble Comics and Bubble Studios.
A: Bubble Comics [has] been making comics for more than five years and we have six ongoing comic book series right now. We’ve made it past fifty issues for each series and we have a lot of fans in Russia, Ukraine, post-Soviet countries, and we currently sell our comic books on ComiXology.com.
D: Yes, I saw them there for ninety nine cents. One dollar for each comic is a very good price!
A: Yes, it’s hard to compete with American comics so we try to bring down the price.
D: Do you have the paper comics as well, because these are digital, right?
A: Yeah, we have a lot of printed comics in Russia and there’s a huge market and demand for printed comics. People are more old fashioned, they want the paper. It’s the true way to read comics because when you read, you can choose the interval of reading, you can turn the pages how you want and make really good things with the pages. For example, in Exlibrium, our comic book series–one of our best sellers–the current artist, Constantine Tarasov, he is making really good and weird–in a good way–things with the comic book page. You have to shift [the paper book] ninety degrees, then ninety degrees more. This one has just blocks of two splash pages and you have to hold [one of the pages] in the center to see the whole two splashes [separated] by one. It is only possible with comics on paper.
D: Did you bring copies [to San Diego Comic Con]?
A: Yeah, we brought a few titles translated into English. Exlibrium book one, hard cover edition. We have the Art of Bubble artbook, in hard cover, too. We have our first ultimate crossover event, Time of the Raven in paperback and we have Major Grom Chance, a prequel to the movie in paperback as well. You’ll love this one because it is telling the story that happens before.
D: So I read an article that said the masks [from the film] are from a Russian cartoon about hockey players? Would Russian audiences recognize those characters?
A: Yes, when you read the [prequel] you’ll know why they chose so poorly in terms of dressing up. When we started making these three robbers, we thought it might be a good idea to place a mask of some cartoon character from Soviet movie or cartoon that everyone knows. It turned out, there are no bad characters in Soviet cartoons! Apparently, there are only good guys who happen to be bad but after a few punches, they realize they’re good instead and they turn good. There’s a lot of cartoons [like that]. But these ones are original gangsters. They’re the baddest you can find. They’re really, douchebags, as you say. Everyone in my childhood hated them.
D: How funny! What’s the name of the cartoon?
A: Puck, Puck! It’s a cartoon about two hockey teams beating each other. One is the good guys and the other ones are bad guys and they play really dirty.
D: And these are the bad guys.
A: Yeah, so this cartoon is about this competition. You can actually find it on YouTube.
D: Yes! I saw a little bit of it on YouTube. I love hockey, so it made me laugh. I thought it was a really interesting connection.
A: Thank you, thank you. We really like the idea itself and the creation process of the masks was not the easiest one. These are the original masks (points to display in booth) that were used in the movie by actors and stuntmen. You can see they have been damaged a lot.
D: And you have your artist with you, Natalia.
A: Yes. Natalia drew The Time of the Raven all by herself. Over 300 pages and she drew it in half a year; 50 pages per month.
D: That’s a lot.
A: Yeah, that’s really a lot. She originally drew the concept of the robbers [from Major Grom]. She was kind of helping us out on how they should look.
D: What made you decide to pick this particular story of the robbery [from the comic book series, Major Grom]?
A: We thought that on our first try we want to make something lightweight, something appealing, funny, interesting and we chose to make the robbery scene because every understands what’s going on. Plus, we made a few jokes in the short movie. Basically, it’s like a scene from a whole, big, two-hour movie. It’s like a showreel on what we can do, in terms of comedy, in terms of action, in terms of human character development. We are going to make a full feature movie…
D: That was going to be my next question…you want to make a full feature from [Major Grom]?
A: Yes a full feature. We are planning to shoot it next summer, but right now we are in talks with a lot of American producers and companies. They are really interested in trying to help us out. We shoot in St. Petersburg because, in terms of production value, Russia is five times cheaper than the United States.
D: So you would be shooting in St. Petersburg. In Russian or in English?
A: We want to shoot in English with English speaking Hollywood stars, preferably, if we could get our hands on them. If not, [Russian] hackers will hack their accounts and demand that they shoot it. It’s a joke, obviously.
D: How do you think that English will work with your Russian audience?
A: The main reason we want to do it in such a way is because, in Russia, people don’t mind watching dubbed movies. In America, it is a big deal. The audience doesn’t want to watch either dubbed or subtitled movies, so we thought that we might make it in English. As long as the Russian audiences are cool with that, we have two major markets, in Russia and the United States. If Russia is okay with that, we’d rather shoot it in English because it will be better.
D: What are your hopes for the screening on Friday?
A: My hopes are that after the screening, Steven Spielberg comes to me and says that it was the best movie he ever saw and he wants to sign a contract for ten in a row.
D: That’s my hope too!
A: But let’s be realistic…only five movies, not ten. I really hope that people will love the movie and that they will enjoy it. I, as an artist, the main thing for me is not the money, is not the fame, is not the women, not all these things, but the reception. I feed on the emotions of other people, as they talk to me and say how I inspired them to do something. That’s the best thing for everyone who tries to make something. My personal hope is that people will come up to me after the screening and just say to me that they really loved what they saw and they really hope to see a full feature movie in English in the United States. That would be the best outcome.